The Fire Service Vs. The Business Suits

With Secretary Ridge and Chief Dave Paulison, we have two leaders who will advance our agenda and protect our interests as we embark on this new journey we call homeland security.

If you visit Washington, DC in the foreseeable future, you might notice a queue of people wearing business suits in front of the Capitol Hill. These are lobbyists, many of whom represent companies and special interests looking for the billions of dollars Congress and the administration will spend on homeland security. They arrive early, and don't leave until they can return to their clients with some assurance of future federal funding.

OK, the long line might be a hyperbole. But I can assure you that just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, members of Congress are being cornered and cajoled by the beltway bandits, most of whom have no background in public safety but that doesn't prevent them from telling members of Congress what's best for you. A number of them have knocked on my door seeking our endorsements to strengthen their sales pitch on Capitol Hill. Some bring their prototype equipment. Others bring videos, info packets or power point presentations. I listen intently to their pitch. However, when I explain to them our role as a policy institute, not a marketing platform for industry, the meetings quickly enter the homestretch.

There are a number of companies that have made an effort to solicit ideas and work in partnership with public safety in developing their technologies and services. I tip my hat to them for their approach. Many are well established, companies that pride themselves on service and loyalty. To them I say, don't change your course.

Why do I share this information with you, the fire service? Because you need to know how the game is played in Washington. In Washington, policy is not always dictated by common sense, but rather dollars and cents. And often times it's the individuals wearing the business suits standing in line in front of the Capitol with money dangling from their pockets who gain access to the decision makers and influence outcomes. Sad but true.

They do not sit passively waiting for the funds to flow their way. They are out there aggressively working the system. In addition to walking the floors of Congress, they're sponsoring or participating in events, to position themselves for when the dyke breaks and the federal funds are released.

Late last year I participated in a conference in Philadelphia on homeland security. In attendance were representatives of companies that developed technologies or services geared towards homeland security. I was part of a three-person panel that discussed the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security. My comments were limited to the needs and concerns of the fire service with respect to the new department (FEMA's role, the future of the FIRE Grant program, and the need for a narrow definition of a first responder). Recognizing that the group was interested in more than policy matters, I offered my assessment on the types of tools and training needed by first responders.

Another panelist, a Congressional aide discussed Congress's role, suggesting that a separate authorizing committee might be formed specifically for homeland security issues. The third panelist, a bright individual who formerly worked on Capitol Hill but now worked for a consulting firm, discussed which members of Congress were holding the purse strings and which offices within the new department will administer the grant programs. He offered insight on procurement process. Care to guess who received the bulk of the questions from the audience? Not I, nor the Congressional aide.

The audience was there for one reason: to discover the whereabouts of the funding stream, more specifically the mouth of this fiduciary river. They wanted information on the procurement process and how they could position their products to score the huge federal contracts. Never mind the actual needs of those in the trenches, the first responders who will respond to the next terrorist attacks.

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